HOW TO WRITE A DETECTIVE STORY

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That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure. Put another nail in the sci-fi coffin here, because those science fiction guys are both sneaky and persistent.

The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter.

That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

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Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives.

A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities. Oh come on, what if the professional criminal is Professor Moriarty? This rule seems full of brittle artifice. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. No spy novels. Take that, Le Carre. And to give my Credo an even score of items I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of.


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They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. Imagine writing a story that contained every one of those, all at once. A Paris shoeshine man, a New York record seller, a Beirut mechanic, a Montreal haberdasher, an Istanbul gramophone… twitter. Skip Article Header. Skip to: Start of Article. To wit: 1. Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article. Skip Social.

S.S. Van Dine's twenty rules for writing detective stories

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How To Write A Crime Novel Worth Reading

View comments. Submit Thank You. Invalid Email. The greatest of all fictional detectives, Sherlock Holmes , along with his loyal, somewhat obtuse companion Dr. Lee, in The Roman Hat Mystery In a sense, the s was the golden age of the detective story, with the detectives named above continuing in new novels. The decade was also marked by the books of Dashiell Hammett , who drew upon his own experience as a private detective to produce both stories and novels, notably The Maltese Falcon featuring Sam Spade.

Literary mysteries: The 20 rules for writing a detective novel

The Thin Man , with Nick and Nora Charles, was more in the conventional vein, with the added fillip of detection by a witty married couple. Successors to Hammett included Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald , who also emphasized the characters of their tough but humane detectives Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer , respectively.

At the end of the s, Mickey Spillane preserved the hard-boiled crime fiction approach of Hammett and others, but his emphasis on sex and sadism became a formula that brought him amazing commercial success beginning with I, the Jury The introduction of the mass-produced paperback book in the late s made detective-story writers wealthy, among them the Americans Erle Stanley Gardner , whose criminal lawyer Perry Mason unraveled crimes in court; Rex Stout , with his fat, orchid-raising detective Nero Wolfe and his urbane assistant Archie Goodwin; and Frances and Richard Lockridge, with another bright married couple, Mr.

In France, Georges Simenon produced novel after novel at a rapid-fire pace, making his hero, Inspector Maigret , one of the best-known detectives since Sherlock Holmes. Other writers who carried out the tradition of Holmes or broke new ground included Nicholas Blake pseudonym of the poet C.

The Mystery Writers of America, a professional organization founded in to elevate the standards of mystery writing, including the detective story, has exerted an important influence through its annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards for excellence.

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See also mystery story ; hard-boiled fiction. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind. Your contribution may be further edited by our staff, and its publication is subject to our final approval. Unfortunately, our editorial approach may not be able to accommodate all contributions.

The Detective Is Born! - Secrets of Mystery and Suspense Fiction - The Great Courses

Our editors will review what you've submitted, and if it meets our criteria, we'll add it to the article. Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. See Article History. Read More on This Topic. Detective fiction, a genre sometimes exploited by the nouveau roman, had an outstanding practitioner in Georges Simenon, the inventor….

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Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Detective fiction, a genre sometimes exploited by the nouveau roman , had an outstanding practitioner in Georges Simenon, the inventor of Inspector Maigret, who during the s also turned to autobiography. His work, especially his critical writings and carefully crafted poems, had perhaps a greater influence…. Science fiction, a form of fiction that deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals. The Hugo…. Edgar Allan Poe, American short-story writer, poet, critic, and editor who is famous for his cultivation of mystery and the macabre.

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